Category Archives: Graduate School

Sneakers (1992) Movie Guide

Sneakers (1992) Movie Poster

Sneakers (1992) Movie Poster

As a graduate school requirement, my wife and I were given the option to create a detailed movie guide. After much time and effort, we have achieved the following movie guide for the 1992 movie, Sneakers starring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, and Ben Kingsley.

Introduction

The activities in this guide align with the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS). Focus areas are in computers, information skills, and technology literacy. This study guide is intended for grades 9 – 12, but can be used with other grade levels. These activities can be modified as needed by the teacher based on student aptitude and prior knowledge. Sneakers is rated PG-13 for brief sexual references.

This movie guide is 17 pages long and follows Gavriel Salomon’s Interaction of Media and Cognition and Learning (1979) model called AIME, the Amount of Invested Mental Energy. Teachers should follow the AIME strategy when implementing this study guide to maximize the educational learning potential and understanding for students.

Movie Overview

Sneakers is a light-hearted heist movie with plenty of comedy and romance about computers, hacking, ethics, government espionage, security, secrets, cryptography, deception, betrayal, and little black boxes. The characters model critical thinking skills and creative thinking about technology. On an ethical level, it’s an account of how computers have changed our daily lives both for the better and for the worse.

Despite the fact that its debut was back in 1992, Sneakers has aged surprisingly well. The surveillance techniques and other technical aspects that appear in the movie can still be found today nearly two decades later. One wonders how this movie got so much so right so early.

Plot Synopsis

Marty is the leader of an unlikely team of professional computer hackers that hire themselves out to company executives in order to test their company security systems. This happens to be a real job called Sneaking (as opposed to Hacking, Cracking, or Phreaking) hence the title.

Based in San Francisco, the team is contacted by two NSA agents who want them to steal a top-secret black box containing a homemade computer chip capable of breaking any secret code. The team decides to accept the job and eventually acquires the black box.

Once they discover what the chip is capable of doing, they become entanglement in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between the National Security Agency and organized crime who also want possession of the chip. They end up handing the chip over to the wrong people and must recover it to clear their good names and prevent themselves from going to jail inside the high-stakes world of government espionage.

Download

Photo Gallery

Advertisements

Vision of a Learner

What does a learner look like? Is he old or young? Is she tall or short? Does a learner have to wear glasses or have white hair? Where will the learner be found? Will he be looking down at the pages of a book, facing a computer screen, or looking up at the stars? Consider the child in front of you. Nobody learns better than a curious kid.

Learning is doing, exploring; it’s a mixture of scientific inquiry, curiosity, and artistic creativity. And children have these qualities in abundance. Adults don’t grow up, they grow old, but deep inside everyone can still be a kid at heart.

Now imagine tomorrow’s learner. Will she be sitting at a desk staring at a chalkboard while listening to a lecture? Will he be sitting at a table handwriting a report using an encyclopedia? No, they will not. They will use every technology and every technique that allows them to explore this natural, inborn curiosity about every subject. They will be walking around with a video camera. They will be talking together online. They will collaborate. They will share. They will work together, work smarter, and work harder to produce, make, and create as they do, explore, and immerse themselves.

And they will be excited. And they will learn. And they will be prepared to grow up and enter the adult world, but they will not forget what they have learned or how they have learned it. He will meet the challenge of holding 15 different jobs over his lifetime by constantly learning new skills. She will pursue her dream across 5 continents speaking 3 languages while working for 1 global company. His hair will eventually turn gray. She will need glasses. But both will continue to look up at the stars in wonder each night for each will still be a learner inside.

Reflection on Integrating Technology in the Classroom

As a regular classroom teacher in this program, I thought I understood what it meant to be an Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF). My participation in this course has opened my eyes to aspects of that position that I had not considered. Things like scheduling, working with techno-phobic teachers, and integrating technology into another teacher’s curriculum simply had not occurred to me. I have now been made aware of these difficulties and been given techniques to overcome them. That is the benefit that I have gained from this course.

I have been a member of many diverse groups while completing my graduate coursework. I have not met anyone yet that I could not work with or find some positive character trait in. A diverse range of perspectives on a topic is usually energizing for me. I guess that’s one reason I feel so at home attending my graduate classes. Plus, I have made some good contacts and they have come in handy on occasion already.

Many times I was in a group with Rebecca, my wife. That certainly made for some interesting times! But I also branched out on my own. In particular, I worked with the back-row boys on a book project and got to know and appreciate them. The Saturday morning online meetings in AETZone were particularly memorable. It was so nice to be able to converse on a wide range of topics. It certainly stretched my imagination about what was possible. Just the other day some of my fellow classmates casually mentioned calling each other over Skype and I happened to overhear. It’s an amazing world and I still have so much to learn and explore.

I’m a bit of a pack rat so the biggest impact that this course has had and will have is through the posts on my new blog at dsmith77.wordpress.com. This particular class helped to open my eyes to a broad range of new technologies (Celtx, Google Trends, Evite, and Flip Video just to name a few) and I have been able to hold onto these new technologies by posting to my blog. It’s a nice way to organize everything so I don’t lose anything. I pretty much put everything there from new sites I discover to my presentation materials. Plus, if something is written down and publicly accessible people who need it will find it or I can guide them to it. It’s a win-win scenario. I’ve only had my new blog for a few weeks, but I’ve already had over 600 visitors! Granted these are not all educational visitors, but that will come. There is long-lasting potential for a lot of future involvement by colleagues and contacts that I haven’t even met yet.

‘The World Is Flat’ Book Summary and Review

Introduction

First, a Disclaimer: I didn’t READ The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I LISTENED to it in audio book format. That said, my concept of chapter divisions won’t be the same as everyone who read the words. Let me also say that I loved it! The author brings together a number of seemingly disparate concepts and technologies and makes them one big continuous, homogeneous whole. It was a great ride!

That said, there are some hand-written notes inside the front cover of my book. They aren’t my notes, but I’ll share one of the best here:

Teach the 4Es instead of the 3Rs
1) Expose Knowledge
2) Employ Information
3) Express Ideas Compellingly
4) Engage in Ethical Practices

Isn’t that a great list? I’ve been saying we teach the 4Rs for a while – Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and computeRs, but I like this list better.

Chapters One – Four

The world got flattened. Now, everyone can compete with everyone else. Natural talent now trumps geography.

I loved his comparisons of important dates like 9/11 and 11/9 although I think that is in a later chapter. It really brings home the disparity. And the metaphors used are equally fantastic. The title of the book alone is very intriguing. The first flattener is about walls and windows. What brilliance! I’m sorry, but there’s a creative writer in me that’s just loving this!

His list of flatteners could probably have been tweaked a little. I’m sure that the actual number is not 10 and that the particular 10 he included are certainly important but are not necessarily the most important. In short, he’s using literary techniques to list 10 of the most important so that they are easier to remember and have a sense of finality since we’re only counting up to 10.

Of particular interest to me is the information about Netscape. Now, being in a computer field I already knew about Netscape and the browser wars. It’s a kind of fascinating thing to follow. But I was not aware of the particulars with regard to business that Friedman points out. He connected a lot of dots and pulled in a lot of loose strings here.

All in all, the 10 flateners were impressive. Advances in software, collaboration, communication, and more. It’s a breathtaking list and, somehow, they all fit together. I wonder if the contents of this book are essential parts of the minds of the great business companies and it took Friedman to put that into words? I remember a year or so back hearing about some fantastic new book stating that nature employs fractal patterns that can be reproduced with computers. Breathtaking? Not really. Those in the sciences had known this for years. It took this writer writing about it to bring it to the knowledge of the general public. And they RAN with it! Only after reporters started getting an “Eh!” from scientists that this wasn’t news, did it drop.

That’s a problem I have with society in general. It seems a pervasive problem particularly in the US. It’s that people are not scientifically minded and don’t recognize how that could help them or how that has benefited the US for many years. It’s our science that has helped us to rise to be the planet’s foremost nation. And we’re losing that. People today are more interested in entertainment than attainment. As Friedman wrote somewhere, in the US Britney Spears is Britney Spears. In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears.

Moving right along we come to the Triple Convergence. Now, I think Friedman could’ve organized this better since technically the first convergence is the combining of the 10 flateners but I digress. It’s still a very effective presentation of the content. Also, unlike most writers who introduce a concept and then stop, Friedman has gone to the next step. He introduced these new concepts and then showed how they came together. That’s a whole additional level off observation and thinking! No wonder this book was on the national bestseller list!

I don’t know how to summarize chapter four. It’s really an extension of the triple convergence in chapter 3. Friedman talks about how these flateners are going to reshape wealth, knowledge, everything. I must confess I did not get much out of the book at this point.

Chapters Five – Eight

Arguably, Part II of the book begins with chapter 5. And it’s a very important chapter for the average American because it deals with the current free trade crisis. Many Americans are upset over Homeland Security, open borders, NAFTA, and other related issues. Freidman published his book in 2004 so he was unaware of how these issues would morph recently in light of the presidential election.

That said, I must say that I was against NAFTA and free trade in general until I read his book. I wasn’t an extremist or anything, I just thought that we should protect our American jobs. I had no idea what was happening! I think Friedman is correct in saying that no one can stop free trade without great damage to our country and for that reason, I think he is correct in saying we must march on.

Chapter 6 on the untouchables was a great comparison. The Indian untouchables are heartbreaking and it’s good to see what technology can do for them. It is equally sad that the generations currently living will not likely get the benefits of the flat world but I suppose that is one of those family things. Parents always want better for their children and can live with less if their children have more.

Chapter 7 on the quiet crisis was disturbing. I’ve known we had problems for years. As a teacher, I unfortunately see it every day. My students by and large are not interested in learning anything that we have to teach them. They want their cell phones, their entertainment, their music, and for us to leave them alone. They haven’t got a clue! And in light of this book, they haven’t got a chance for a good life either! AND THEY DON’T CARE! It is one of the hardest things to try to teach a student to care.

I tried to instill caring in my students this semester like I usually do. With my first period, I ran smack into a brick wall called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Many of my students were not getting enough sleep at night, some had family problems, and none of them really cared to learn the material or put forth any additional effort. After Spring Break (and it came early this year) the students all got Senioritis and more or less decided to quit doing any work. Working through that has been a challenge to say the least and I have not always been nice with them. And at least one of them keeps complaining to a parent who calls my principal to have a chat with me. <sigh> Of course, it’s never about how their child can learn the material better. And the only thing related to my principal are my faults. None of my motivations or positives are related. At least my principal does understand and he’s gentle with me. I don’t think I could continue teaching with a hard-liner for a principal.

Chapter 8 concludes what I have dubbed part II. “This Is Not A Test” does seem to describe the problems we’re facing in America. This is for real and we need to take these challenges seriously. Now, if only Friedman had included a list of strategies to use with a predominantly rural, manufacturing background population in western North Carolina we’d be all set.

Chapters Nine – Thirteen

I really did read this book. Or rather, I really did finish listening to the audio book version. A lot of the material in this last part really didn’t apply to me, but I heard it and got a lesson in global economics at the same time.

What a cool title for chapter 9! And what a good illustration of the extent of the challenge. If we in America are upset that the Mexicans have been taking our job, we should be alarmed that the Mexicans are now losing their jobs to the Chinese!

Chapter 10 on coping companies was sad. It almost makes me want to go into a business that can’t be outsources like fast food. The sad thing is, when presented with these challenges many of my students would just accept things and work at McDonald’s for the next 50 years. It’s like a blanket PLAGUE! There is no inspiration! No energy! No interest for the things that really matter! It’s like every student has poverty syndrome and there’s no way to knock it out of them and make them wake up, shape up, and do what needs to be done.

Chapter 11 was the most revealing chapter of all. I’m glad Friedman wrote this book and I hope has been translated into the Arabic languages and widely distributed. He explained more about the motivations of Osama bin Laden in one chapter than I had amassed watching the Iraq war unfold on CNN for SEVEN YEARS. That’s sad. Why wasn’t CNN telling us what he told us?

Chapter 12 seemed out of place somehow. It was an illustration, yes, of this process but that was best explained back in chapters 3 and 4. This chapter probably should have gone there. Nonetheless, it was kind of interesting (and boring) to listen to where all the parts for his computer came from. It reminded me of reading the genealogies in Leviticus and Numbers in the bible. (There is a little gem in there, though, called the Prayer of Jabez – look it up!) Anyway, it showed how the economics have a stabilizing factor on political systems. And that will be, I think, by and large a good thing.

Although, if America is currently losing out because we’ve grown complacent what will happen to China, India, and the rest of the world in the future when they are all like us? Won’t they become complacent too?

Lucky #13 was a great place to finish. (Although, as I said, chapter 12 doesn’t fit where it’s at and this chapter would fit perfectly after chapter 11.) It was a challenge to the reader to choose wisely. I liked that. Friedman clearly has a strong belief system beneath his writing. He is concerned about the US. And he has children. I’m about to be a father and I could almost hear what he was saying about the future. Am I happy about some of these things that have happened? No, of course not, but I can’t change them.

I consider my as yet unborn daughter to be a gift from God and He doesn’t make mistakes. Since He has blessed Rebecca and I with a child I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. Have you heard the saying that a new baby is God’s way of telling us that life should go on? Well, I kind of internalized that in this last chapter. I’m not exactly overjoyed about what I foresee the future holding, but I am calm about it. I trust that God has made a good decision. Now, the ball is in my court and I choose to be the best father I can be and help guide my daughter as she grows up into what she will become. I’m looking forward to it.

Inexpensive Interactive Whiteboards are Coming

For our graduate school coursework, Rebecca and I gave a short presentation on how the Nintendo Wii will change the future of education. Currently, school systems across the nation are paying thousands and thousands of dollars for very expensive interactive whiteboards. A quick look at the Tags used with this post will give you the names for some of the more common varieties.

What follows is the outline used in the presentation.


The Nintendo Wii and the Future of Education An Exploration of New Technologies to catalyze School Reform

  • Introduction
    • The Nintendo Wii home gaming console
    • Statistics from vgchartz.com showing market penetration
    • Demonstration with Volunteers
  • Educational Uses Now
    • Physical Education
    • YMCA
  • HOPSports – The future of kid’s fitness?
  • Wii Remote Projects with Johnny Chung Lee
    • Web Site: www.cs.cmu.edu/~johnny/projects/wii/
    • “Tracking Your Fingers with the Wiimote” Video (4:08)
    • “Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays using the Wii Remote” Video (4:46)
    • “Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote” Video (4:04)
  • Conclusion

It’s only a matter of time before someone takes advantage of Johnny Chung Lee’s software to produce a very inexpensive interactive whiteboard. In fact, you can do this yourself if you are so technically inclined. The Wiimote costs around $40 US, the pen is cheap too, and the software is freely available. Compare that cost to the thousands of dollars companies are currently charging for these displays and you can quickly see why they are marketing their products so heavily. They know that the technology is changing and they have a limited amount of time to turn a profit.

So, what is my advice for a company, organization, or school system interested in purchasing this technology? Wait. If you must have this functionality now in order to stay competitive then don’t invest your money in the expensive wall displays. The smaller hand-held pads and tablets give arguably similar experiences at a fraction of the cost. My own school system uses InterWrite Pads extensively with a few Smartboards here and there.

Narrative on Teacher Leadership

Narrative on Teacher Leadership

The leader that has been in my mind lately is George Washington Carver. His most distinguishing trait was that he lived beyond his circumstances. As an African-American in a time in our nation’s history when that didn’t mean much, he was an artist, botanist, and ultimately a brilliant chemist. He was very kind to those around him, thoughtful in his work, devoted to his adopted school where he practiced and taught early chemistry, and lived an honorable life.

Yes, I do consider myself a leader and specifically a teacher leader. I am a leader by leading my peers in our Computer Applications I curriculum, being a member of our MTAC committee, and voicing my opinions on important matters. I try to always backup my opinions with reasoning though.

I am very fortunate to have two excellent supporters of teachers directly over me. Both the CTE Director and the school Principal both support teachers. They used to be teachers and still remember the trials of the daily grind. Our CTE Director even has his office at my school and not at the county office.

Increasingly, I am getting less and less support from other faculty and staff. I think this is partly because of the work climate at my school and of course the workload. I can’t speak for other teacher leaders as they may be getting more support, but in general the morale is low and that tends to make people quiet on voicing their support.

Teaching really chose me. My father was a teacher and my first job out of college was teaching. I didn’t go to college to teach, but I find that it is very palatable to me. So much of my life was spent learning and enjoying the process that I am naturally at home in a school environment.

Not to be too pessimistic, but there are few jobs in my county for anyone with an advanced degree and I didn’t want to move elsewhere. I also hate change. I realize that some change is good, but I also recognize that not all change is for the better. So, once I got into teaching I was satisfied and didn’t really feel driven to seek other employment.

I am very proud to say that I have been invited to present at the North Carolina CTE Summer Conference now for three years running. I present on advanced Web Page topics suitable for teachers of the e-Commerce classes.

I don’t know where I want to be in five years. I’m torn between my love for my current school and my frustration with the climate in my county. It is becoming increasingly intolerable, many good teachers are leaving, morale is low, the current sophomore and junior classes have been more than difficult to teach, and nobody seems to be listening to or trying to fix any of the problems that are so evident at my level. So, I don’t know where I want to be. Actually, I do enjoy teaching my programming classes and I think I would make a good Technology Director, but I don’t want to have to travel too far to my job site. Right now, I am only 10 minutes away. I also don’t want to be stuck doing what I’m doing for another 20 years. I also want the opportunity for advancement and there isn’t any here. Again, I’m very torn.

I would hope that they would remember me as a teacher that truly cared for them. I also want to be remembered as someone who knew his craft well, loved it, and shared that love. I want my students to be exposed to things that are bigger than they are so that they will realize their potential. I love coaxing out that sparkle in a student’s eye when they understand something for the first time. I want to be remembered for helping them discover a love for something in their life – a passion that they never lose.

My Teacher-Leader Metaphor

So, what metaphor would I use to describe my professional teaching practice? The following questions should help me to focus in on what that might be.

Q: Do I prefer to use lesson plans as rough guidelines and vary class activities as needed, or do I prefer to carefully organize and execute class activities according to a set plan?

A: A bit of both, actually. I suppose I started out teaching more along the lines of the former with just a topic in mind for each day in the course. Of course, I had it all written down too. But now having taught for 8 years, I have recreated the wheel of my pacing guide so often that I have settled on a more detailed format which includes a daily topic along with assignments for that day. Exactly how I present the material still varies by class. I have it all organized into a nice spreadsheet. Looking back at the question, I’ve always had some kind of guide and am much more comfortable teaching that way, but I also allow room for the unplanned teachable moment.

Q: Do I feel that students must reach clearly specified state, district, and local goals, or do I prefer for students to take different paths to learning, which may lead them to different destinations?

A: I prefer that students learn what is important to them in their future lives, but that doesn’t always match up with the official curriculum. So, yes, I do allow for students to take different learning paths, but I also make sure that the essential curriculum is also followed. There is usually room for both.

Q: Do I feel that my role as a teacher is to build in the knowledge that all students need to succeed, or do I see my role as drawing out students’ prior knowledge and helping them to organize it?

A: Since most of the courses I teach are introductory level courses, students in those courses are assumed to have little or no prior experience or knowledge to draw from. Essentially, I assume nothing and build on that foundation. As I teach, I constantly try to relate prior knowledge and connect concepts together in the minds of my students, but I don’t consider that my primary role. So, given the two choices, I tend to build in the knowledge that students need to succeed.

Q: Do I feel that it is my responsibility to plan, direct, and monitor what is done in class, or do I allow students to help plan, direct, and monitor many of their own class activities?

A: This greatly depends on the students that make up the class and their respective maturity and interest levels. To be sure, every class is a little different. I generally start out very strongly as the director and monitor of all class activities but this gives way to other leadership techniques within a few weeks. Even with the best classes I usually only allow the students very limited time to direct their own learning due to curriculum requirements.

Q: Do I feel that learning requires students to listen, watch, wait patiently, and follow my directions, or do I feel that learning depends upon student engagement in a wide range of activities and applications?

A: It takes both and it usually takes both for any given topic on any given day. Let me explain: Most topics in my curricula have both a comprehension component and an application component. That is, there is a part that must be understood and a part that must be practiced. So, I generally present the new material to the students as a group and then they implement it on their own. Given a certain necessary minimum amount of structure, I think the best learning comes when students are engaged though. We just usually have to get through the knowledge part first.

Q: Do I emphasize the importance of feelings, values, and relationships in my classroom, or do I emphasize the importance of reason, logic, and systematic problem solving in my classroom?

A: Again, I see the importance of both. While my curriculum is all about reason, logic, and problem solving – especially the computer programming courses – the students in the course are still human and have emotional and social needs. Therefore, I see the importance of both.

Q: Do I feel that students need to focus on doing their own work and improving their own performance, or do I feel that students need to develop social skills and the capacity to work well with others?

A: I certainly emphasize the former, but there is room for the latter. Each student must be able to do the coursework on his or her own at the end of the course. How a student gets to the end of the course is a strong indicator of the student’s abilities, but it is in no way a guarantee. Students should never be required to do all of their work in a bubble away from other students. In fact, I find that collaboration between students on their daily coursework is an excellent way for both to improve their individual abilities. Two heads really are better than one.

Q: As the instructional leader, do I do more talking than students during class time, or do the students do more talking?

A: At the beginning of my courses I tend to do a lot more talking. This is simply because I am introducing new concepts and material. As the courses progress and the students grow stronger in their abilities and confidence, I tend to talk less. I do encourage students to ask questions of me and each other when there is a gap in understanding. I think this is a very effective strategy to promote better student understanding and achievement. Thus, my classes tend to be rather loud as the students communicate with each other, ask questions of each other, and of me. There is also a comfort zone quality to asking questions so students who are shy may take a while to begin speaking. Either way, as my courses progress the students tend to do more of the talking.

Q: Is my major concern as an instructional leader that students maintain a strong sense of self while learning, or is my major concern that students meet or exceed their performance goals?

A: I think this is a Maslow question. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that higher needs on the scale he developed cannot be addressed until lower needs on the scale are satisfied. Thus, I clearly tend to concern myself with student performance goals. I also know that if a student’s basic self concept is suffering I must correct that deficiency before refocusing the student on his or her performance goals. My focus and major concern remains on the performance goals though.

Q: Do I try to predict what students will do and carefully manage class time to get the desired results, or do I try to allow time and opportunity for accidental developments and discoveries?

A: I tend to predict and prepare for student results. I also frequently regret doing so as every class is different, but there is extra time built into my classes for self-exploration. I do not assign homework in any class because to do so would be ethically unfair to students without easy access to a computer after school hours. This means that I must manage my class time wisely so that there is enough time built into the course for even the slowest student to finish. Thus, most students have at least some time each day for exploration after their daily assignments are done.

Conclusion: In reviewing my responses to these questions the metaphor of a “Tour Guide” comes to mind. Each day my students and I have an itinerary of places to go and things to see. I point out important things along the trip, but let them explore these new places and sights on their own. I am also always standing there behind them if they have questions.

You know, in my personal life I’ve never particularly cared for real tour guides as they never wanted to stick around at the things that interested me. Instead, after their talk was done, they herded the group off to the next location. I don’t want to be that kind of teacher. I just can’t think that the students would get very much out of it. On the flip side, my hands are somewhat tied due to the course requirements. I do have to hurry the students along to the next topic! If I didn’t, they would never complete the course on time. It’s a sad situation, but no one has yet figured out the dynamics of teaching students where they are instead of our arbitrary age- and grade-based system. Until then, “please follow me to the next exhibit…”

Reference

Pittman, Kim and Linda O’Neill. “Using Metaphors to Evaluate Ourselves.” Classroom Leadership February 2001<http://www.ascd.org/portal/site/ascd/template.MAXIMIZE/menuitem.29d4046bbea38f2eb85516f762108a0c/?javax.portlet.tpst=d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_ws_MX&gt;.